“I just couldn’t put the annual report down.” A sentence that you probably only hear very rarely beyond the offices of the boardroom. Annual reports are not produced exclusively for shareholders, but for all stakeholders and interested parties. Companies are thus given the opportunity to publicly summarize their performance, to introduce themselves, and to build up an image. Storytelling methods can be used to seize this opportunity. The following five steps turn figures and tables into exciting reports for a wider readership.
1. Transport facts, figures and stories visually!
Companies not only have the opportunity to stay in people’s minds via a logo. Especially in storytelling, the potential of visual content is enormous. Whether as graphics for figures, emotional motifs for stories or people in authentic situations – use the advantages of visual communication! And do it on a large scale; in the best case in moving images.
One example of a pictorial exposé is the 2016 Sustainability Report from McDonald’s Germany. Simplifying information, preparing it and conveying it as appealing and uncomplicated as possible – that’s exactly what the fast food chain has done here. Why do the many facts and figures stick in the memory? 90 percent of the information passed on to our brain is visual. This is because our brain processes images 60,000 times faster than pure text. What’s more, the hook already arouses curiosity and lets us explore the world of numbers like a sleuth.
2. Show closeness when you tell about yourself!
Liebherr International AG has an annual turnover of more than ten billion euros. Few people probably know the management, but in the annual reports, the married couple Isolde and Willi Liebherr have their say in personal interviews. In the 2020 annual report, of course, a lot is said about their own experiences with the pandemic and the effect on the Group. On the one hand, the answers build a closeness to the entrepreneurial family and the management level, and on the other hand, they provide transparent insights in an interesting way into the politics of the company, which certainly had to accept some defeats in its hero’s journey during the Corona year. Dealing honestly and openly with these challenges creates credibility and trust among employees, which is essential for good corporate governance.
3. Put your customers in the center!
Companies that want to use storytelling successfully in their annual report must also address the question of who is actually the hero or heroine of the story. The answer: the customers. Everything the company has done in the past 365 days has been done for them. On the one hand, this form of empowerment communication enables readers to identify more with the contents of the annual report. On the other hand, it allows companies to make their mission, values and connection to their customers tangible.
For adidas, it’s the community that counts. The company had big plans for 2020: “The Run for the Oceans should become a global movement in our fight against plastic waste.” Instead, pandemic and home office. Without further ado, adidas created the #Hometeam campaign, which catapulted to one of the most called-upon campaigns in the company’s history. In addition to the obligatory facts and figures of the fiscal year, stories like these can be read in the current report, which make the company seem closer and more likeable.
4. Focus on your employees!
But you couldn’t photograph happy customers if there were no employees. They are the ones who bring every company to life in the first place. If you want to paint an authentic and attractive picture as an employer, employees are the best storytellers. The faces of employees turn dry descriptions of a modern corporate culture into lively stories.
For the people who are put in the spotlight as heroes, it is in turn an appreciative gesture. Apple demonstrates this impressively every year in its “Progress Report“, which will be introduced in 2021 with the words: “How we make it is as important as what we make. Putting people first. Opening doors through education. And protecting the planet.”
5. Let the audience explore your business figures interactively!
Digital formats offer the perfect opportunity to take audiences on a journey. Away from the familiar world of known information, towards mysteries and insights that open their eyes to new perspectives. Interactive drill-down or zoom-out graphics engage readers and make them detectives of the data world.
In 2019, Berlin’s state-owned housing company Gewobag created an integrated business and sustainability report in digital form for the first time, winning numerous national and international awards for good reason. It’s no wonder that Gewobag is also implementing its current 2020 annual report with digital storytelling and letting its audience go on an interactive discovery tour.
CONCLUSION: Courage for originality
Annual reports are and remain heavy fare with lots of figures and information. But there are ways and means to make the content not only easier to digest, but also more exciting. If companies want to take advantage of the opportunity to report on their internal successes and plans to various target groups, the following applies: Originality makes the world go round! How stakeholders and shareholders interpret the events of the past quarters is significantly influenced by the annual report. So show your face! Show the faces of your employees and customers! Show creativity and interactivity! Without a story, there will be no readers!
Would you like to learn more about data storytelling? Then we recommend, for example, the exciting article: More success as a CFO with financial storytelling.